WASHINGTON The government on Thursday warned owners of about 4.6 million recalled Ford vehicles to bring their cars and trucks immediately to dealerships to disconnect cruise-control switch systems that have been linked to engine fires.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued the consumer advisory to the owners of certain unrepaired Ford, Lincoln and Mercury sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks, vans and passenger cars who have not yet responded to past recalls.
The recalls have vexed the automaker, affecting its popular F-Series pickup trucks, prompting hundreds of complaints and dozens of lawsuits over engine fires. Three deaths have been tied to the fires, and Ford has struggled to produce enough parts to fix the problem.
About 9.6 million Ford vehicles have been recalled since 1999, and about 5 million have been fixed, raising concerns about the remaining vehicles on the road. NHTSA said it has received about 60 complaints of engine fires in the Ford vehicles since August 2007.
Ford said it supported the action, and dealers would soon offer a more permanent fix.
"We absolutely want everybody to come in as soon as they can, because we can eliminate the risk of fire for anyone with a vehicle in this recall," said Ford Motor Co. spokesman Wes Sherwood. He said the company, based in Dearborn, Mich., would have an "ample supply" of the replacement parts by June.
NHTSA said many dealers will disconnect the cruise-control switches as a "drive-through" service, so that owners do not have to leave their vehicles at the dealership or schedule an appointment.
Dealers have installed a fused wiring harness into the speed-control electrical system as part of the recall, but replacement parts have not been widely available. Owners can take their vehicle to a dealer to have the cruise control deactivated until the parts arrive.
NHTSA issued a lengthy list of older vehicles covered by the consumer advisory, including 1993-2004 Ford F150 trucks, 1994-2002 F250 through F550 Super Duty trucks with gasoline engines, and 1998-2001 Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer SUVs, all of which were among the best-selling vehicles in the nation during those years.
A complete list was available at www.nhtsa.dot.gov/.
The Ford recalls have run into problems. Earlier this month, the automaker recalled about 225,000 vehicles that had already been repaired, because some wiring harnesses appeared to be defective.
Ford also faces more than 100 lawsuits nationwide because of fires linked to the cruise-control deactivation switch. Many owners have alleged that the fires began after the vehicles were turned off, and there have been three deaths attributed to that problem in Iowa, Georgia and Arkansas.
Last week, Ford was able to consolidate 77 lawsuits filed in Texas so that a single judge can handle pretrial discovery.
Ford has said its internal investigations have found the fires did not cause deaths and injuries.
"In the cases where there was that allegation, we found that the source of the fire was unrelated to the vehicle," said Ford spokeswoman Kristen Kinley.
For additional details, owners can call Ford at 888-222-2751.